Virginia’s first openly gay judge takes oath amid tears, applause

Posted at 6:44 PM, Mar 01, 2013
and last updated 2013-03-01 22:19:41-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – History was made in Virginia as the state's first openly gay judge was sworn in Friday.

Tracy Thorne-Begland is now a General District Court Judge and will hold court in Richmond.

The historic end to a long and controversial journey was felt beyond the four walls of Richmond's City Hall.

The road leading to the landmark day was not always been a smooth one. Last May, the House of Delegates voted against Thorne-Begland's nomination after some voiced concern over possible activism from the bench.

Delegate Bob Marshall tried to have Thorne-Begland's named removed from a list of proposed District Court judicial appointments lasy year.

“I don’t even think it’s proper to put his name forward because of his behavior,” said Marshall, who called Thorne-Begland “a homosexual activist,” in a press release.

But almost one month after lawmakers voted against Thorne-Begland serving as a General District Court judge in 2012, the Richmond Circuit Court appointed him to serve an interim position last June.

However, he met with lawmakers to answer questions again this January. Those questions did not surround his sexual orientation, but rather his service in the Navy and concerns by lawmakers over “activism.”

“Some say you lied on your application to be in the military because it asks if you are gay,” St. Delegate David B. Albo, Chair of the Courts and Justice Committee, asked Thorne-Begland.

“In 1988 and 1989 when I was going through the process of joining the military I didn’t know I was gay,” Thorne-Begland said.

That process took its toll on Thorne-Begland. In fact, he said the long nomination process left him physically and mentally exhausted.

Thorne-Begland said the history-making moment would not be possible without the help of his sponsor in the House of Delegates, Manoli Loupassi R-Richmond.

"So the fact that his sexual orientation has nothing to do with it," Loupassi said. "If you're black or Latino or whatever. It doesn't matter. Can you do the job? Are you qualified for the job? If you're qualified and you can do the job then you'll you should be able to get the job, too."

Richmond's newest judge thanked his partner of 20 years and two children for their support amid applause.

Mayor Dwight Jones released a statement congratulating Thorne-Begland late Friday.

“The City of Richmond was pleased to be able to host this historic event at City Hall today. Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland is a demonstrably competent addition to the bench and it is a joy to see this day come,” Jones said.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Tracy Thorne-Begland sworn in as Richmond judge